TODAY'S PAPER
76° Good Afternoon
76° Good Afternoon
SportsBaseballMets

Mets pitchers hope to put injuries behind them in new season

With injuries behind them and a new ideas at the helm, can the team’s vaunted starters put it all together?

New York Mets starting pitcher Jacob deGrom delivers

New York Mets starting pitcher Jacob deGrom delivers a pitch against the Washington Nationals during the first inning in an MLB baseball game at Citi Field on Sunday, Sept. 24, 2017. Photo Credit: Kathleen Malone-Van Dyke

PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. — It is the time of new beginnings — of freshly-cut grass and, in Jacob deGrom’s case, freshly-shorn locks. While winter beats on dutifully up north, here in Florida, it’s spring in everything but name, and that means that at least for a little while, the Mets can forget the sins of yesteryear and look at 2018 with some semblance of hope.

The question is whether those sins will forget them.

As pitchers, catchers and early-reporting position players descended on First Data Field, there appeared to be more uncertainty than anything. Not because of the personnel — in the most substantial ways, the roster has stayed relatively static — but because last season proved without a doubt that there’s no such thing as certainty when your entire season rests on the Mets’ big arms. By the end of 2017, the rotation once considered elite was in shambles, plagued by injury, mechanical problems and various crises of confidence.

Today, they are relatively healthy and very hungry to change their fates.

And that’s why chief operating officer Jeff Wilpon and company have doubled down. It’s a new beginning and a new manager and the Mets are once again ready to roll the roulette wheel on the health of their rotation. Forget Noah Syndergaard’s torn lat muscle, the stress injury in Matt Harvey’s shoulder, the irritated nerve in Steven Matz’s elbow and the stress reaction in Zack Wheeler’s arm. Yes, those things happened, and yes, the injuries shaped the entire course of 2017, but that doesn’t mean, Wilpon insisted, that these same pitchers can’t lead the Mets back to National League dominance. New manager Mickey Callaway and pitching coach Dave Eiland can only help, the organization believes.

Callaway, a former pitcher, led the Indians to a league-low ERA last season and a league-high in strikeouts. For him to try to replicate those results in Queens, though, these pitchers will have to, you know, actually stay healthy. And pitch well (important not to forget that one).

It’s something Wilpon thinks is very possible.

“Look at the historical [record] of what they’ve done,” he said last month of his potential rotation. “If we get them all out there, it’ll be a great problem to have — that we don’t have enough innings for all these starting pitchers to fill. Look at what’s coming back, or should be coming back, that was hurt last year. I think that’s tantamount to signing some free agents because we didn’t have them for most of the season last year. Syndergaard, Matz, Harvey were down. That’s a great number of innings that are going to be coming back and I think, from what I hear from the baseball department, and from Mickey and Dave, those are quality innings that will be coming back.”

To the Mets’ credit, they haven’t hinged everything on the rose-tinted idea that things will just turn out better this time. Callaway and Eiland have implemented a decidedly more hands-on approach with the staff this year, monitoring the offseason regimens that earned so much scrutiny last season.

Syndergaard, for instance, said he isn’t lifting as heavy and as often as he did last year — something that might have led to his injury — and instead focused on flexibility and athleticism. That, along with an overhauled training staff, headed by Jim Cavallini — now the team’s director of performance and sports science who most recently had a similar role with the United States Army special operations command — indicate a strong focus on controlling injuries insomuch as they are controllable.

Injuries, though, weren’t the only bugaboo for the rotation. Harvey, never quite the same after surgery to remove a rib due to thoracic outlet syndrome, openly struggled with his confidence on multiple occasions last year, even questioning out loud if he’d ever be as dominant as he was in his 2013 All-Star season. He’s also spent various portions of the last two seasons struggling to maintain an effective arm slot. Last season it was higher than it was in 2013, perhaps one reason for his 6.70 ERA.

By Saturday, at least four of the presumptive starting five had reported (Wheeler hasn’t been spotted, but he only won his arbitration case on Thursday and isn’t required to report until Monday). Robert Gsellman, Seth Lugo, Chris Flexen and Rafael Montero — all part of the patchwork rotation after the injuries hit — also were present. And though Harvey hasn’t addressed the media yet, the rest sound confident.

Syndergaard said a mechanical tweak he made at the end of last year has “made a world of difference.” DeGrom, the most consistent and injury-free of them all, said if the staff stays healthy, he likes their chances. Matz raved about Callaway and Eiland (well, as much as Matz, typically subdued, can rave).

In the end, it’s hope in its most nascent form. They haven’t faced a single batter yet, much less tried to beat the heart of the Nationals’ lineup in the dog days of August. Their bones, ligaments and tendons haven’t been tested. The cold hasn’t descended on their arms.

But hey, it’s a start. And isn’t that what spring training is all about?

SPRING

SCHEDULE

All times p.m.

FEBRUARY23 Braves 1:10

24 Cardinals 1:10

25 Marlins 1:10

26 at Astros 1:05

27 Astros 1:10

28 at Braves 1:05

MARCH

1 Marlins 1:10

2 Nationals 1:10

2 at Astros 6:05

3 at Marlins 1:05

4 Nationals 1:10

5 Tigers 1:10

6 (ss) Astros 1:10

7 Yankees 1:10

8 at Nationals 1:05

9 at Tigers 1:05

10 at Yankees 1:05

11 Astros 1:10

13 Astros 1:10

13 at Nationals 7:05

14 at Marlins 1:05

15 Marlins 1:10

16 Orioles 1:10

17 at Nationals 1:05 p.m

18 at Orioles 1:05

19 at Astros 1:05

20 at Cardinals 1:05

22 Nationals 6:10

23 Cardinals 1:10

24 at Cardinals 1:05

25 Marlins 1:10

OPENING DAY

March 29

Cardinals at Mets, 1:10 p.m.

New York Sports